Margot Bordelon

Yale Cab Recap

The 45th Season of the Yale Cabaret closed last month, and before this month is out the latest version of the Yale Summer Cabaret—titled “A Summer of Giants”—will open. In the meantime, here is my recap of last season, picking my favorite shows and contributors in thirteen categories. In each, plays are listed in order of appearance, except for my top choice which comes last. Play (pre-existing work): Small casts—often only two actors—dominated the choices the Cab presented this year: White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, Nassim Soleimanpour’s interrogation of freedom, artistic purpose, and the value of theater was one of the more challenging nights at the Cab; Cowboy Mouth, Sam Shepard and Patti Smith’s riff on the agonistic love affair with rock’n’roll of two second-generation beat poets boasted great language and expressive movement; The Small Things, Enda Walsh’s speech-driven and static two-character play made almost all its bizarre and frightening action take place in the audience’s minds; Arnold Schoenberg and Alberg Giraud’s musical and poetic extravaganza, Pierrot Lunaire, was a feast for both eyes and ears, a dramatic achievement of the religion of art; and . . . The Island, Athol Fugard’s collaborative play with John Kani and Winston Ntshona, combined the intimate talk of two inmates in South Africa with their chosen roles as Antigone and Creon to create a powerful portrayal of the politics of art under repressive regimes.

Play (original): The plays originating with YSD students ran quite a gamut, the ones I liked best provoked visceral responses hard to ignore: Ain’t Gonna Make It, conceived by Nicholas Hussong, Cole Lewis, Masha Tsimring, Lauren Dubowski, and created by the Ensemble, presented entertaining songs and a stand-up routine about terminal illness early in life; Phillip Howze’s All of What You Love and None of What You Hate is a multi-character drama about teen pregnancy and coping, full of vibrant language and characterizations; Jackson Moran’s All This Noise offered one man’s take on a family tragedy and his personal outrage at mental health treatment in our country; The Bird Bath, created by the Ensemble, was an expressive and harrowing account of an artist’s mental dissolution told via expressive movement and voice-overs; and . . . This., script by Mary Laws, dramatized personal memories about moments of connection and disconnection in the New Haven and Yale communities to telling effect.

Sound: Sound can be a subtle category, sometimes a bit difficult to assess after the fact, and, when most effective, one tends not to notice it; my choices represent strong impressions that stayed with me: the busy soundscape of The Fatal Eggs (Matt Otto and Joel Abbott); the brash echoes on the voices of the poets in Cowboy Mouth (Palmer Hefferan); the aural mosaic of voice-overs, music, cell calls, and sound effects in All of What You Love and None of What You Hate (Pornchanok Kanchanabanca and Sang Ahm); the sound effects, voice-overs, use of music, all with a dated feel in Lindbergh’s Flight (Tyler Kieffer); and . . . the very effective interplay of sound, voice-over, and original music in The Bird Bath (Palmer Hefferan).

Music: Cab 45 was strong in shows involving original compositions, and for use of music as a major ingredient of the show: the songs of life, death, disease and defiance created and performed by the on-stage ensemble—Timothy Hassler, Hansol Jung, MJ Kaufman, Sarah Krasnow, Jenny Schmidt, and Lico Whitfield—in Ain’t Gonna Make It; the music created by Mickey Theis to accompany his character’s rock star posteuring in Cowboy Mouth; the tunefully Terpsichorean offerings—both in writing and playing—by Timothy Hassler and Paul Lieber in Cat Club; the moods of Palmer Hefferan’s original score for The Bird Bath; and . . . the first-rate performance of Schoenberg’s challenging score for Pierrot Lunaire, by Dan Schlosberg, piano; Clare Monfredo, cello; Jacob Ashworth, violin and viola; Ginevra Petrucci, flute and piccolo; Ashley Smith, clarinet and bass clarinet; and Virginia Warnken, soprano.

Lighting: To enjoy a play, you have to be able to see it, of course—but often Lighting goes well beyond mere illumination to become an expressive part of the play; some instances I was particularly struck by: Meredith Reis’s diverse sources of illumination and fun lighting effects in The Fatal Eggs; Oliver Wason’s dramatic lighting of tableaux moments in This.; Masha Tsimring’s evocative illuminations of the tripartite action of The Bird Bath; Joey Moro’s nimble lighting of the wacky subversions of Lindbergh’s Flight; and . . . Oliver Wason’s highly effective visual enhancement of Pierrot Lunaire.

Puppets, projections, props, and special effects: More than a few shows this year indulged in puppetry—shadow puppets and actual puppets—as well as a fair share of projections, videos, and engagement with unusual props; here are some stand-outs: the use of projections and props in All This Noise, Nicholas Hussong, projection designer; the shadow puppet miniatures that illustrated the story of Ermyntrude & Esmeralda, Lee O’Reilly, Technical Director; Joey Moro, Assistant Technical Director; Carmen Martinez, Puppetry Captain; the playful use of shadow puppets to tell one of the wild stories written by the twins in The Twins Would Like to Say, Whitney Dibo and Lauren Dubowski, Co-Directors; the projections and special effects that punctuated the lurid tale of The Ugly One, Nicholas Hussong, Projection Designer, Alex Bergeron, Technical Director; and . . . the evocative projections (Solomon Weisbard and Michael F. Bergmann) and flying puppets (Dustin Wills, with Nicole Bromley and Dan Perez, Technical Directors) that enlivened The Fatal Eggs.

Scenic Design: One of the great joys of the Cab is seeing how, with each new production, the space changes to be made to be what it has to be; some remarkable transformations include: the busy set and shenanigans, like swinging doors, in The Fatal Eggs (Kate Noll and Carmen Martinez); the sprawling Chelsea bohemia of Cowboy Mouth (Meredith Ries); the cartoonish play space of Milk Milk Lemonade (Brian Dudkiewicz, and Samantha Lazar, Assistant Set Designer); the three spaces with three different personalities of The Bird Bath (Mariana Sanchez Hernandez); and . . . the conceptualized prison commissary space with raised stage of The Island (Kristen Robinson).

Costumes: When it comes to transforming a group of actors, the effects are sometimes subtle, sometimes outlandish: the colorful clothing—where the shetl meets vaudeville—of The Fatal Eggs (Nikki Delhomme); the spot-on pre-punkdom, plus lobster suit, of Cowboy Mouth (Jayoung Yoon); the Edwardian filigree of Ermyntrude & Esmeralda (Seth Bodie); the dowdy get-ups and clownish make-up of The Small Things (Nikki Delhomme); and . . . Milk Milk Lemonade (Soule Golden): I’ll never forget Lico in a chicken suit, and whenever penis-pajamas catch on, say you saw them here first.

Ensemble: Just as technical effects are often achieved by collaboration, so are dramatic effects—the Cab thrives on ensemble work and here are some special commendations: the entire cast of The Fatal Eggs—Chris Bannow, Sophie von Haselberg, Dan O’Brien, Ceci Fernandez, Michelle McGregor, Mamoudou Athie, Ilya Khodosh—presenting a bizarre collection of types; the entire cast of This.—Jabari Brisport, Merlin Huff, Ella Monte-Brown, Mariko Nakasone, Hannah Sorenson, Mickey Theis—for superlative interactions and transformations, independent of gender considerations; the entire cast of Milk Milk Lemonade—Xaq Webb, Bonnie Antosh, Melissa Zimmerman, Lico Whitfield, Heidi Liedke—some of whom aren’t YSD students, for their game enactment of this colorful tale; our avatars and others in the audience-participation odyssey, Dilemma—Ben Fainstein, Hugh Farrell, Sarah Krasnow, Rachel Carpman, Zach LeClair, and Dan Perez—for taking us where we told them to go; and . . . Zie KollektiefKate Attwell, Gabe Levey, Brenda Meaney, Mitchell Winter—who broke down the Brechtian effort to break down “the walls,” with a vengeance, in Lindbergh’s Flight.

And special mention to the volunteers who bravely enacted, with audience members, White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, script sight-unseen: Sara Holdren, Monique Barbee, John-Michael Marrs, Hugh Farrell, Gabriel Levey, Brian Smallwood.

Actor: We’re always looking for a star, even in the midst of ensemble; for notable individual performances by a male actor: Timothy Hassler, as the terminally ill and memorably entertaining Eric in Ain’t Gonna Make It; Mickey Theis, as Slim, the guitar-wielding shit-kicker turned rocker in Cowboy Mouth; Paul Pryce, as John, the apartheid inmate with a vision of Antigone in The Island; Christopher Geary, as the self-questioning survivor in The Small Things; and . . . Jackson Moran, in All This Noise, for playing, more or less, himself in a one-man show that confronts the drama, sorrow and joys of real life and the realities of mental problems.

Actress: What moves us most in watching acting varies, but we know when an actress makes a part her own: Michelle McGregor, as the poet-groupie-Svengali called Canavale in Cowboy Mouth; Zenzi Willliams, as the teen, passive to the point of persecution in All of What You Love and None of What You Hate; Ceci Fernandez, as the innocent but pining for knowledge Esmeralda in Ermyntrude & Esmeralda; Emily Reilly, as the lonely woman with a tale to tell in The Small Things; and . . . Hannah Sorenson, as the schizophrenic Lenora Carrington—vomiting, bathing, withdrawing, and transcending—in The Bird Bath.

Direction: With so much going on that’s worth watching, who keeps it all together and makes sure it all comes off? The director, we assume; some special mentions: Dustin Wills, for the zany Soviet sci-fi extravaganza of The Fatal Eggs; Kate Attwell, for the gripping anti-apartheid drama of two prisoners learning what they represent in The Island; Monique Barbee, for the three-at-once manifestation of psychic distress and coping in The Bird Bath; Ethan Heard, for the creation of actions to illuminate rich compositions of poetry and music in Pierrot Lunaire; and . . . Margot Bordelon, for the subtle and sensitive enacting of the stories people tell (and don’t tell) about themselves in This.

Production: For overall production, it's no surprise that the favorites in other categories line up at the end; I've already acknowledged the directors of these shows, now it's time for the producers: This., produced by Whitney Dibo, with its strong ensemble work and vivid presentation, gave us insight into one another and ourselves; The Island, produced by Lico Whitfield, with its strong dialogue and innovative set, presented us with a visceral sense of theater’s power; The Bird Bath, produced by Emika Abe, with its mystery and misery, provided a sense of convulsive beauty (a surrealist mantra); Pierrot Lunaire, produced by Anh Le, showed us the sublime possibilities of musical theater; and . . . The Fatal Eggs, produced by Melissa Zimmerman, immersed us in the wild energy, complex staging, and surprise effects possible only at the Yale Cabaret.

That’s it for this year. Our thanks and best wishes to all who participated in the shows of the 45th season, and to all the staff, especially Artistic Director Ethan Heard, who chose the season, and Managing Director Jonathan Wemette, who kept it running so smoothly, and . . . see you next year for season 46: Whitney Dibo, Lauren Dubowski, and Kelly Kerwin, a trio of YSD dramaturgs will be, collectively, the Artistic Directors, and Shane D. Hudson will be the Managing Director, a post he filled in last year’s Summer Cabaret. Speaking of the Summer Cabaret, stay tuned for a preview with Artistic Director Dustin Wills of its offerings, which begin May 30th and end August 18th.

The Yale Cabaret 45th Anniversary Season Artistic Director: Ethan Heard Managing Director: Jonathan Wemette Associate Artistic Director: Benjamin Fainstein Associate Artistic Director: Nicholas Hussong

Upcoming Carlotta Festival

Every year the graduating playwrights of the Yale School of Drama each have a final play produced, much as the graduating directors offer their thesis shows throughout the year.  For the playwrights, the occasion is called the Carlotta Festival of New Plays and it runs for two weeks in May, beginning a week from today.  Each play is directed by a graduating director and features, for the most part, first year acting students.

This year the line-up consists of Amelia Roper’s Lottie in the Late Afternoon, directed by Ethan Heard; Justin Taylor’s House Beast, directed by Jack Tamburri; MJ Kaufman’s Sagittarius Ponderosa, directed by Margot Bordelon.

Amelia Roper, a playwright from Australia, says she likes fiction of the modernist era and has devised a comedy that harkens to the comedies of manners of that period.  In Lottie in the Late Afternoon, the laughs derive from Lottie’s effort to create an ideal vacation for herself and her friends—a plan that goes awry, leading to tense and awkward situations that viewers may find hitting close to home.  In particular, Lottie is a play concentrating on a certain demographic now reaching their late thirties and coming to terms with the status of their relationships, their ambitions, and their pasts.

Taking place in the present during a weekend in the off season at a New England beach house, Roper’s play lets us into the intimate dynamics among a couple—Lottie and her husband Aaron—and two of Lottie’s best friends: Anne (married, but with a husband who chose not to come away for the weekend), and Clara, who has some history with Anne.  Roper says that in some ways the play is “all about the meals,” as the foursome have to sort out the usual tasks and tastes that make for a successful ménage—in the face of the kind of economic instabilities that may well be a defining context for this generation.  Add to that the fact that Lottie has packed a stack of books by the likes of E. M. Forster, Jane Bowles, and Iris Murdoch that purport to be vacation tales, but which help to cast over the proceedings a kind of nostalgia for a past that none of these characters has experienced, though they might like to wish they had.

Roper looks to plays by Will Eno, Sarah Ruhl, and Martin Crimp for inspiration, and sees in comedies such as hers a risk in registering “existential angst” as an aspect of otherwise vital friendships.  The drama in such situations is not found in major conflict, but in the characters’ struggles to get across feelings and insights amidst the disappointments of not connecting.  In other words, the play is as real as your next small social gathering—and maybe as desperate—but bound to be funnier.

Justin Taylor describes his play House Beast as a “comedy when trauma is possible.”  Fair enough, given that the play opens with a prologue set in 1992, during the early teens of two of the three characters—Chris and Matt—as they try to make a DIY horror film in an abandoned house in a fictional Californian suburb called Pleasant Valley.  Unexpectedly on the scene as well is Matt’s older brother Terry, as a wild afternoon ensues involving some creepy occurrences, a flying goat—and something dramatic between Terry and Chris that ends badly.

Skip ahead twenty years and we find Matt and Chris hooking up—or almost—via the “grinder app” that helps gays get together.  In the interim, Matt has moved to LA to be a Hollywood type (or so he hopes), Chris has led a peripatetic life with Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and Terry, a married man with two daughters, is a well-liked firefighter with a closeted secret life.  House Beast looks at how past shame and trauma can haunt the present. We enter the dynamics of a triangle where the two possible love objects for Chris are brothers—and he has baggage with both.  The characters are amusing—with the two brothers playing to type and Chris something of a grandiose progressive idealist—though things can get ugly.

Taylor cites Caryl Churchill as a master of the dark comedy he aims for, and says the romantic aspects of the play engage with the timely question of whether happiness is sustainable.  His characters would all like to find a means to change the outcome of their pasts together.  Taylor gives the characters enough room in which to grow and enough rope with which to hang themselves.      

For MJ Kaufman in Sagittarius Ponderosa, the only thing that’s really sustainable is what he calls “the landscape of constant change.”  Set in central Oregon, Kaufman’s native state, in a landscape dominated by Ponderosa pines, the play depicts three generations of a family coming to grips with various kinds of transformation in the dark time of the year ruled by Sagittarius—late November.

For Archer, there are the changes that come with turning thirty on top of a gender transformation his family hasn’t quite accepted; for Archer’s dad, hitting sixty and terminally ill from diabetes, there’s that most permanent of transformations—from life into death; and for Archer’s grandmother, in her 80s, there is the possibility of a late-in-life love, though it’s Archer (Angela, to her) she’s trying to make a match for.  Landscape in the play is not only emotional and familial, it also partakes of the concerns of Oregon where research into controlled burning, as a technique of combating forest fires, brings a researcher named Owen into the family circle and gives resonance to the play’s location.

The play travels a year from Thanksgiving to Thanksgiving, allowing us to see change and development in the characters over time.  The naturalism of the play accommodates devices such as a love potion Grandmother wields, and a ghostly visitation from Archer’s late father as he merges with Peterson, a neighbor in the form of a puppet.  Kaufman’s play began as an assignment from Sarah Ruhl that encouraged him to work with Ovidian metamorphosis.  The work has allowed Kaufman to engage with the kind of archetypal naturalism found in Thornton Wilder, a favorite playwright of his, handling major themes of love and death and identity with a light touch.

Each playwright feels blessed by the director each is working with.  For Roper, Ethan Heard’s sensitivity to characters is perfect for her comedy of relationships; Taylor finds Jack Tamburri’s gutsy energy particularly helpful in creating the exaggerated memory of adolescence the prologue aims for; and Kaufman was inspired by the personal urgency and great visual sense Margot Bordelon has brought to the staging of his play.  All three pairings seem matches made in heaven and we can expect a trio of brave, thoughtful and entertaining plays at this year’s Carlotta Festival.

 

The Carlotta Festival of New Plays

The Yale School of Drama

May 6-14, 2013

1156 Chapel Street, New Haven

The Kids Are Alright

Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine is something of a schizophrenic play.  As staged by Margot Bordelon, a third-year director in the YSD program, the show is a wildly entertaining first half yoked to a second half that isn’t nearly so nimble.  The first half is set in 1880, on a colonial outpost in Africa, and laughs abound.  The second half is set in England c. 1980, and … not so much. Maybe it’s just me, and my antipathy for that particular past—the era contemporaneous with the writing of the play—is my problem.  And yet, it’s obviously much easier to imbue the 1880s with charm and fun and a frothy lubricity that makes everyone ready to have sex with someone, than it is to derive much in the way of lasting uplift, drama or entertainment from the people who inhabit the late Seventies/early Eighties.  Too close to home but also dated?  Maybe that’s it.  The cast—and they are extremely well-cast—gives it a game try and there are some notable bits in the show’s second half to make it worthwhile.

Before the show even starts we’re treated to the cast posed as figures in displays in a sort of living museum of natural history.  And the exhibits’ backgrounds remain as the set for the African outpost where rigidly upstanding Brit Clive (Gabe Levey, a comic revelation) lives with his family: his blushingly compliant wife Betty (Timothy Hassler, as winsome as one could want a man in a dress to be), Edward, his goldilocked adolescent son (played with inspired awkwardness by a woman), Maud, his no-nonsense mother-in-law (Hannah Sorenson, a study in gray), his daughter Victoria (a stuffed doll) and the child’s nanny, Ellen (Brenda Meaney, self-effacing), as well as his Man Friday Joshua (Chris Bannow—more later), who has renounced his tribe to be a trusted servant.  Enter into this world of domestic bliss and disrupted white tranquility—the natives, as they say, are restless—a rugged explorer, Harry (Mickey Theis, increasingly profound), and a woman with a tendency to be rather assertive, Mrs. Saunders (Meaney again, anything but self-effacing).

As with any broad farce, one isn’t surprised to find that Betty and Harry have a concealed passion for each other of long-standing.  Nor is it surprising to find that Clive has the hots for Mrs. Saunders as a supplement to his overly demure wife (there’s a fairly outrageous scene of coupling between the two, with Levey and Meaney getting all the humor they can out of it).  But when Edward begins to pant for Harry, and the latter slips away with Joshua for a fuck in the stable, and when Ellen tries to make a move on Betty, and when, after some mixed signals are let slip, Harry comes on to Clive, much to the latter’s outrage, well, let’s just say everyone but Maud is ready to do it with someone (the old lady mainly gets her kicks having one doll bitch-slap another).  You see how it is: Victorian propriety masks a libidinal free-for-all.  In Churchill’s 1880s, no one was standing around waiting for Freud to invent sexual repression.  Everyone is sexually expressive, it’s just that the expression had to be a bit more clandestine than would later be the case.

All of this is very amusing with a cast so equal to the task, and the roles of Clive, Betty, Harry, and Edward, especially, manage to be both caricatures as well as bravura bits of characterization by the respective actors in the roles.  Scenes between Harry and Edward are particularly spirited, as are the scenes when Clive tries to upbraid his wife and son.  But to Bannow, as Joshua, falls one of the more interesting roles.  Indeed, it should be mentioned that Bannow has done an estimable job of playing perfectly the kinds of ancillary roles that matter much to the overall effect.  He did it in both parts of Jack Tamburri’s thesis show, Iphigenia Among the Stars, and he does it again in both parts of Cloud Nine.  Joshua is anything but a caricature; he’s a complex witness to a world that tries desperately to hide its truths from itself, and his “Christmas song” is a plaintive grasp at love from someone denuded of his own identity in favor of an invention.  It’s one of the finest moments in the play.

In the second half, after a curtain painted as a Union Jack has fallen to the floor, we enter the post-punk era of Margaret Thatcher.  It’s a brave new world in which women like Victoria (that doll grown up, we’re meant to assume, despite the leap in time) can leave an earnest, well-meaning and hilariously “progressive” husband (Theis, in a sustained comic role) in favor of, first, Lin, a recently divorced single- mother lesbian (Sorenson, lower class than Vickie), and, later, a sexual ménage à trois with Lin and her own bisexual brother—little Edward (Hessler), now grown into a sensitive cross between his earlier, feminized self and Harry, the manly explorer he adored back there in Part One.  The cavorting about on a picnic blanket by Vickie, Lin and Edward is not only intense, it’s also preceded by an invocation of “the goddess.”  While that sort of thing should invite acerbic parody in our time—aren’t the New Agey trappings of the New Woman of the Seventies as risible as the era’s Sensitive Man?—the trio manages to turn the moment into a liberated expression of collective ecstasy. Almost.

Act Two, then, isn’t all farce but aimed at something like a naturalized representation of people trying to find their way in the minefield of human relationships.  The emotional center is Vickie and she gets a sensitive portrayal, with spirited support from Meaney’s newly divorced Betty, looking like a Thatcher wanna-be and yet displaying the good sense to embrace the moment’s potential, and from Bannow’s feckless but direct Gerry—as Edward’s sometime lover he exudes the kind of low-key sexual know-how that seems never to go out of date.

Where the play loses some of the moorings that helped give power to Part One is in the part of Cathy—Lin’s little girl.  With pigtails and Clive’s handle-bar moustache, in a short velvet frock above manly legs, Levey is let run rampant as a kind of androgynous, butch pixie of the Id.  With prepubescent preening, tantrums, and naughty asides, Levey is so riotously girlish he becomes a one-man drag show, but there’s no room for something Part One had and Part Two needs: the sensitivity with which the child—Edward, in Part One—was allowed to put heart into the play via understated comedy.

In Churchill’s script, the actor playing Clive—the ultra-male bastion of all things British—must become a little girl in Part Two, and Bordelon’s production lets us see how such a transformation is no transformation, really, since, Clive or Cathy, it’s Levey’s role to dominate the scene, as Cathy dominates her well-meaning but somewhat clueless elders.  It’s prescient, certainly, as patriarchy makes way for . . . pueri-archy?

 

Cloud Nine By Caryl Churchill Directed by Margot Bordelon

Scenic Designer: Kate Noll; Costume Designer: Elivia Bovenzi; Lighting Designer: Masha Tsimring; Sound Designer: Sam Ferguson; Composer: Palmer Hefferan; Production Dramaturgs: Emily Reilly, Alexandra Ripp; Stage Manager: Sonja Thorson

Yale School of Drama January 22-26, 2013

It's Like This

The Yale Cabaret’s This. is a fast-paced pastiche of personal events from multiple sources.  Staged by a cast of six—three males, three females—and directed by Margot Bordelon, the script, developed by Mary Laws, derives from interviews and anonymous emails solicited from people from the communities of Yale, the Drama School, and New Haven.  To what end?  To weave the anecdotes of childhood trauma, teenage experiences, and other moments of “loss or fracture” into an entertaining and touching night of theater. The sense of a collective voice is supported by the fact that the gender of a given interviewee is not necessarily retained in the actor chosen to act out that segment.  Thus the six—Jabari Brisport, Merlin Huff, Ella Monte-Brown, Mariko Nakasone, Hannah Leigh Sorenson, Mickey Theis—metamorphose in a very fluid fashion, not bound by consistency of voice or character.  And yet each actor is given opportunities to hold center stage with a story a bit more fleshed out than some of the other quick changes.  Particularly strong is Jaspari Brisport with the material that falls to his lot: he tells us of the vicissitudes of belonging to a band of guys who call themselves the Poochys—his social death arrives via a play-acted same-sex kiss he puts his tongue into, and a stressed-out recital of a speech from Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion; elsewhere Brisport, with a thick voice and a collection of nervous tics, tells of paternal molestation in a hot tub—the story is told in response to a prompt asking about events that caused a major change and the story isn’t over-dramatized, though “the change” is clearly traumatic.  Similar is Nakasone’s tale of a teen-ager who, against her better judgment, lets herself get drunk with a group of boys who proceed to rape her—“the change” is that her father blames her.  While these stories may seem too sad or unpleasant for a friendly interview session, Bordelon and Laws wisely maintain the straight-forward declamation of such confessions.  We hear the stories told by persons who are clearly able to live with these pasts and go on with their lives.

Surprisingly, against such lurid material, the stories of lesser or more comic instances of past misfortune don’t seem trivial, as for instance Merlin Huff in the character of a somewhat garrulous elder—turning 65—who reminisces about the loss of a prized toy.  It’s to the entire cast’s credit that they are able to inhabit the state of mind of children and teens so as to make stories like finding someone to blame the destruction of a statue of the Blessed Mother on seem vivid.  In addition to well-choreographed movement to keep the action fluid and not too talky, the team also employs very effective mixes of lighting (Oliver Wason) and stop-action moments to create tableaux that work to highlight key moments and produce images of emotions easy to identify with.

The action all takes place against set designer Reid Thompson’s impressive backdrop walls where the shelves of a middle-class den meet the large scale box sculptures of Louise Nevelson, a nice mashing of the mundane and the modernist.  The overall effect of This. is a sense of wonder at the stories harbored by anonymous people; we might suppose that the verbatim language of interviews would be a bit too artless for drama, but as presented here, the deliberate eschewing of overly dramatic, poetic or sensational language keeps the situations described within the realm of everyday reality.  And that's the point. We’re all a part of This.

This. Conceived and created by Margot Bordelon, Mary Laws, and Alexandra Ripp Script by Mary Laws Directed by Margot Bordelon Based on interviews conducted in New Haven

 

Yale Cabaret 45th Anniversary Season

Tales from the Basement

According to Mary Zimmerman, author of The Secret in the Wings, the setting for the play is “some strange place balanced between a basement and a forest.”  The Yale Cabaret, in other words. The Secret in the Wings is now showing in repertory as part of The Yale Summer Cabaret’s 50 Nights: A Festival of Stories, and is the kind of show the intimate acting space thrives on.  The Cab’s basement space has been revamped, by Adam Rigg and Solomon Weisbard, as a cluttered and creepily-lit set looking like the kind of basement kids would enter on a dare, and, with chalk drawings of trees all about, it’s also the kind of forest kids playacting in a basement might create.  With the audience seated at tables hugging the periphery, a talented cast of six—three males and three females—conjure up a sequence of fairy tales told, in the best Grimm Brothers tradition, without sparing us their violence, grotesque oddities, and fantastic variants of the eternal “find a mate and please your parents” agenda that children have been tasked with since feudal times.

It all begins—well, “once upon a time” there was a little girl named Alex (Alex Trow) whose parents (Ethan Heard and Monique Barbee), being somewhat preening and capricious, chose to leave her for the evening in the care of creepy Mr. Fitzbania (Josiah Bania), a neighbor with a garden of roses, a surly demeanor, and, according to the anxious Alex, a tail!  Indeed he does have a tail, several tales, in fact, and the play consists of the stories he regales the girl with, preceded by his simple question, “will you marry me?”

Beauty and the Beast, right?  Yes, and all the tales have both beauty and beastliness, the latter generally attended with a certain sportive sense of the comical: sure, the unsuccessful suitors for “The Princess Who Would Not Laugh” (Hannah Sorenson, kind of channeling Winona Ryder in Heathers) are decapitated, but the basketballs that roll onto the set as their hapless heads are pretty amusing.  As is the little vaudeville routine the three fellas in "Three Blind Queens" enact with gusto as the everyday life of three princes.  When an evil Nursemaid (Sorenson again—she does evil well, if you saw her as Tamora you know what I mean) demands that the three queens the guys marry have their eyes gouged out (while the princes are away at war), we get a jar of marbles.

At times the props become more poetic—as for instance the little stacks of twigs for the blinded queens’ children—and the choreography even more so: the repetitive routine by which six sons transform into swans and back, due to their piqued father’s unthinking curse, is a bit like watching someone become a bird automaton.  Mickey Theis (as “the worst” son, according to his father), has to do this solo in a corner the way a bad child would, with a look of transfixed wonder and horror mixed.  And Bania does a nice turn as the dad, a simple man driven to his wit's end by his noisy sons.

Each tale Mr. Fitzbania reads is left unfinished as he moves on to another, letting these tales of dark doings hang suspended, until we get to The Swan Sons and a sort of entr’acte tale about a dinner party, a ghostly visitor (Trow—who has a flair for wide-eyed ingenue parts) and two coins.  Then we get, fairly rapidly, the outcomes of the tales.

The story I liked best is sung by the whole cast, and the lyric of the madrigal-like song—“where are you going my one true love, never go there without me”—suits perfectly this tale about the possibilities of love after death.  This time Trow gets to be not so nice, and Ethan Heard, as the lover who agrees to be entombed, alive, with his beloved goes through it all with stoic grace.

Prospects for necrophilia not macabre enough for you?  How about incest in the tale of Allerleira, a beautiful blonde (Sorenson of course) whose dad (Theis) wants to wed her since no other woman in the kingdom can match the beauty of her deceased mom?  This story incorporates fun devices such as a hopscotch jingle that says it all, and a bit in which three kids (Heard, the leader, Trow, the minx, and Barbee, the flighty one) try to get the story straight.  It’s an entertaining glimpse of how children take in and make sense of the kinds of odd things adults tell them in books.

 

And what is Zimmerman telling us?  The upshot of it all seems to be something like Bruno Bettelheim’s “the uses of enchantment” argument: the tales we tell—and the odder the better—create our capacity for imagination and allow kids to work through the eternal mysteries of life, such as “what’s up with mom and dad?” and “how do I find love?”

Director Margot Bordelon shows that the great pleasure of Zimmerman’s piecemeal reworking of old themes is to be found in the rapid staging and each cast member’s seemingly impromptu changes, and that its value will be revealed in glimpses of beauty and mystery that surprise us.  The whole evening seems not too far removed from what gifted children might get up to in a basement, working through bewilderment and angst via the magic of make-believe.

The Secret in the Wings is that, no matter how happily ever after the story ends, something is always left hanging—and what you do with that, my child, is up to you.

 

Yale Summer Cabaret

50 Nights: A Festival of Stories

June 20-August 19, 2012

The Yale Cabaret

The Secret in the Wings by Mary Zimmerman

Directed by Margot Bordelon

Cast: Josiah Bania, Monique Barbee, Ethan Heard, Hannah Sorenson, Mickey Theis, Alex Trow

Adam Rigg: Sets; Maria Hooper: Costumes; Solomon Weisbard: Lighting; Matt Otto: Sound

 

July: 21st, 8pm; 22nd, 8pm; 25th, 8pm; 28th, 2pm August: 3rd, 8pm; 4th, 2pm; 9th, 8pm; 11th, 8pm; 15th, 8pm; 19th, 8pm

50 Nights: A Festival of Stories:

Tanya Dean, Artistic Director; Reynaldi Lolong, Producer; Eric Gershman, Associate Producer; Shane Hudson, Associate Producer; Dana Tanner-Kennedy, Associate Artistic Director/Resident Dramaturg; Jacqueline Deniz Young, Production Manager/Technical Director; Alyssa K. Howard, Production Stage Manager; Rob Chikar, Stage Manager

What's The Story?

photo

All the world tells stories.  Some for entertainment, some as explanation, some for identification, some for cautionary purposes.  Some are called escapist, some are called educational.  Some are called fables, fairy tales, myths, tall tales, urban or rural legend.  Some are based on what happened, some are about things that could never happen, some imagine things that might happen.  Some are about things happening right now. When Reynaldi Lolong, a third-year Theater Managing student at Yale School of Drama, asked Tanya Dean, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Drama and a 2011 MFA in Dramaturgy, to meet with him at Chocopologie for a casual chat about his ideas for a 2012 Yale Summer Cabaret proposal, they immediately clicked in their love of a variety of fictional fare: comix, sci fi stories, Dr. Who episodes, tales of the supernatural, as well, of course, as Shakespeare and classic theater.  What they quickly established is that what they love best in all these genres is the story itself, the tale to be told.  They also agreed that the Cabaret “is the perfect venue for celebrating storytelling.”

Finding themselves “increasingly obsessed” with a search for stories that became “enjoyably all-consuming,” Reynaldi and Tanya consulted colleagues at the YSD and came up with a letter of intent for three theatrical experiences that will run in repertory throughout the summer.  It didn’t hurt that Reynaldi, the Producer this year, was the Director of Marketing for last year’s Summer Cab, nor that Tanya has been involved in some capacity in a total of thirteen regular season Cab shows.

All three shows of 50 Nights: A Festival of Stories will be up by the end of the first week of the season, which begins June 20th, with a show per night, and two shows performed each Saturday, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., throughout the run of 8 weeks, or 50 nights.  There will also be two marathon Saturdays—July 14 and August 11—on which all three plays will be staged (at 1, 4, and 8).

First up, June 20 to August 17, is Laura Schellhardt’s The K of D (short for “Kiss of Death”), a one-woman play featuring Monique Bernadette Barbee as sixteen different characters in a rural Ohio town.  Directed by Tanya Dean, the play explores the kind of legends that small communities can sustain, with flights that are both funny and frightening, involving both tragedy and youthful high spirits.  Can a kiss from a dying brother give a young girl the power to kill with a kiss?

Next, June 22 to August 18, Of Ogres Retold.  The play is the brain-child of YSD designing genius Adam Rigg (also the scenic designer for the Summer Cab this season) who uses several Japanese folktales as the basis for this original piece of puppet theater, with a cast of five, involving other-wordly creatures and a sense of the mysterious, the macabre, the monstrous and the miraculous.

Finally, June 23 to August 19, Mary Zimmerman’s The Secret in the Wings, directed by Margot Bordelon, uses the full cast of six actors for this intriguing revisiting of fairy tales.  A journey into the world of “once upon a time,” in a play that weaves together strange and strangely familiar elements from childhood, as a young girl experiences an unsettling night with an unusual sitter who regales her with tales of menace and magic.

As Reynaldi says, each Summer Cabaret is in dialogue with previous years, and the 2012 version builds on last year’s repertory offering of three shows with a dedicated team of actors.  This year there will be six actors, with each actor performing in two of the shows.  The main difference is that there will be one set for all three shows, a versatile playing space able to transform the Cab into the environment needed for each unique play.  Tanya describes the basic set as a kind of “cabinet of curiosities” adaptable to the dock on a lake for K of D, the props and costumes discovered in the course of The Secret in the Wings, and the projection surfaces for the “Victorian macabre” of Ogres Retold.  The doorway into the Cab this summer is like the door of the wardrobe into Narnia, a passage into a world of  surprises, secrets and summer wonder.

Additionally, selected performances throughout the summer will be followed by the Fireside Series, a reading of stories under the stars, with an opportunity to chat with others about the show, and to hear firsthand some of the tales that have been incorporated into the plays.  The Series will recreate that familiar locus of storytelling: the camp fire, and, if it rains, there will be ghost stories with flashlights inside the Cab.

And once again the Summer Cab will boast the cuisine of Anna Belcher of Anna’s on Orange.  There will be light fare, snacks and beverages beginning at 12:30 for the 2 p.m. shows and full dinner beginning at 6:30 for the 8 p.m. shows.  For info, tickets, schedule visit: http://summercabaret.org/.  This year there’s also a blog with behind-the-scenes notes, chat with the production team, and ongoing updates about production and performances, at: http://50nights.wordpress.com/

And, if you like what you see on the site, consider helping the Summer Cab to meet it’s goal of $4,500.  At the link below there is a pledge drive, with various rewards even for minimal contributions of $5—every little bit helps, so don’t hesitate, stress Reynaldi and Tanya, to give whatever you can.  And the Summer Cab Board, a highly supportive and enthusiastic group, have agreed to a two for one deal: so whatever you pledge will be matched by them.  If pledgers meet the goal, that means a total of $9,000 for production, money you will see on the stage.  So, if the thought of stories, creatively told in an intimate performance space by gifted theater students, thrills you, get in on this early and help Reynaldi and Tanya meet their goal.

http://www.rockethub.com/projects/7673-50-nights-a-festival-of-stories